Let me express my thanks to all the fine people who plan and participate in Washington’s annual Whiskey Rebellion Festival.

For me, it was an incredible experience to walk in the parade as an openly gay man in my hometown. Thanks to the folks at Washington County Gay/Straight Alliance and to Central Outreach for providing the opportunity to those of us who wished to show ourselves.

When I was a young person I endured a lot of bullying in high school. I was called gay in a derogatory manner before I even knew what that really was. All these years later, I finally took back my self respect by walking with my friends down the main street of our town. I stuck to the line down the middle of the road during the parade because it meant a lot to me to be in the middle of this first effort by our community.

A lot has changed since I came back here to live in 2000. We are recognized now as a part of the whole community as opposed to a secret to be hidden. Marching in this parade surely helped me to heal and let go of old wounds that have festered for many years. And to those who applauded and smiled along the parade route I say thank you, God bless You and we will see you again.

Patrick Arena